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A note about trans exclusion at New Orleans Women’s Health Clinic in 2009

Date: March 30, 2015

Back in June 2009, I saw a post on now-defunct Questioning Transphobia blog that called attention the website of New Orleans Women’s Health Clinic, which read, in part, “We are currently not able to provide care to trans people who were male assigned at birth or who have had genital sex reassignment surgery. Please call for referrals.” The poster, a white trans woman who had recently relocated to New Orleans and was looking for health resources, was outraged to read the outright discrimination against trans women. When the post went up, many people were also outraged, and it ignited a firestorm of criticisms against NOWHC’s transphobia.

I agreed that NOWHC’s statement was deeply problematic and offensive, but I was also concerned how an army of mostly white trans women and allies initiated a campaign of full-on attacks on NOWHC, a small reproductive health clinic (which was at the time on hiatus due to lack of resources) established by (mostly) Black women affiliated with Incite! Women of Color (now “Women and Trans People of Color”) Against Violence after Hurricane Katrina left many women completely devastated and without needed services such as this. Yes, NOWHC’s exclusion of trans women must be addressed and corrected, but I felt that there was a better way to achieve that.

So I told folks on the blog that I was contacting someone I knew from Incite! New Orleans to get it addressed, and asked them to give me a little time to do so. For this, I was viciously attacked for a prolonged period of time for supposedly attempting to “silence” trans women’s righteous anger over the statement, but I was simply asking white trans women to take a step back and let me, a trans-ish woman of color with existing ties to Incite!, work things out with the women I knew from Incite! New Orleans.

After several email and phone conversations, NOWHC publicly apologized to trans women and had a statement posted on Questioning Transphobia blog. The original poster also apologized to NOWHC for rushing to publish the article attacking the clinic only an hour after sending them an email questioning the statement instead of waiting for their response.

Questioning Transphobia blog has since disappeared, as did many other blogs and websites that discussed the incident, so it has become difficult to learn what happened and how it got resolved. An unfortunate result of this is that it left a vague memory that Incite! has done something transphobic in the past, with no knowledge or awareness of a resolution, which continues to give the impression that Incite! might still be a trans women exclusionary institution.

I cannot find any web archive of NOWHC’s statement or Questioning Transphobia blog, but I was able to find email exchanges from 2009 that included the statement. With the permission of the Incite!, I am publishing an excerpt from the statement below.

We agree that the questions and concerns you raise are very important. The priorities we hold in providing safe, accessible, and unbiased care to women regardless of their race, income, sexuality, gender identity, body type, citizenship status, work sector, legal history, ability, age, language, and family size and status are often regarded as a “risk” and “liability” by many medical professionals. This reality has delayed our efforts to hire a new Medical Director and created many barriers for many members of our community, including you, in seeking safe, quality, and respectful services.

In making the statements “we are currently not able to provide care to trans people who were male assigned at birth or who have had genital sex reassignment surgery. Please call for referrals,” we were referencing the lack of experience and training that our former medical staff had in providing trans affirmative care to all women regardless of their body types, and gender identities and expressions. We recognize that the current language on our website marginalizes trans women in particular, even though it says elsewhere that we provide services to “all women.” Although “services” provided at the Clinic are not restricted to our medical programs, we recognize that the way it is written implies that we offer no services at all to trans women, which is marginalizing and confusing. It would be more accurate to say that our goal is to provide medical services to all women, though we are having a difficult time reaching it. We take responsibility for this inaccurate representation, and for the ways in which the language is disrespectful, and we sincerely apologize.

Collectively and organizationally, we are committed to creating institutions and environments that challenge gender-policing and trans and homophobia by dismantling racist, heterosexist, patriarchal, classist, and xenophobic ideologies of exclusion, discrimination, hatred, and violence, which creates barriers for many members of our community, particularly those persons who are women of color, poor, LGBTQ, immigrant, differently-abled, homeless, heads of households, disabled, sex workers, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated, young, and living in racially and economically segregated communities. Our website doesn’t reflect this politic effectively and we are currently in the process of modifying it.

Besides language, we share the concern about the core issue of offering safe, quality, and respectful services to all women. Since our founding, we have struggled to hire medical staff who don’t pathologize, demonize, and criminalize the bodies of undocumented women, women with disabilities, l/b/t/q/i women, women of color, low-income women, homeless women, and women working in the sex industry because of our sexuality, reproductive decisions, and gender expressions. Currently, we are evaluating if we can realistically find medical staff that meet this expectation, particularly given the current conditions of the city.

In the future, I think it would help to post such statements to Incite!’s own website/blog in addition to where the firestorm originated from so that memories of the organization’s mistakes and growth can survive the forgetfulness (except in the NSA database) of the internet.